Advocating for Defence families

The Cost of Service: The Importance of Supporting Australian Defence Force Families for a Growing Defence Workforce

An opinion piece by Defence Families of Australia

Families play a vital role in providing essential social services to society. This is particularly evident in the context of Australian Defence Force (ADF) families.

The ADF is a core component of the nation’s security, and the wellbeing of their families is crucial to maintaining a healthy and effective military workforce.

In this opinion piece, we will discuss some of the ‘free’ services that society receives from families, delve into the cost of these services, and discuss how supporting military families in Australia is critical to maintaining – and growing – a strong and resilient ADF.

Families as first port of call

In most instances, families provide a wide range of social services which are essential to the functioning of society. They often serve as the primary source of emotional support, care, and nurturing, particularly for children and the elderly. They provide economic support, financial assistance, housing, and other material resources.

Families also play a crucial role in socialising individuals, instilling values, and shaping their behavior and resilience. They provide social cohesion, fostering a sense of belonging, and promoting social stability and harmony within society. This all culminates in the development of responsible citizens.

In the context of Defence families in Australia, these ‘free’ social services take on added significance.

In Defence families, these services often come at unseen and unrecognised costs.

Defence families face unique challenges due to the demands of military service. Frequent relocations, deployments, distance from other family support networks, impacts on job security and career progression, and exposure to physical and emotional stressors are common pressures.

These challenges can have a significant impact on the wellbeing of Defence families and, in turn, the readiness and effectiveness of the Defence workforce.

Why support families?

Foremost, Australia should reflect on what costs are reasonable for families to bear for their loved one’s national service in the ADF. Further, we should consider the costs which are unreasonable to expect of a family.

DFA believe and advocate that a Defence family’s wellbeing should not be impacted insofar as is possible.

While we will never remove all potential hurdles or challenges Defence families face, our nation has a responsibility to ensure that the frequency and height of these hurdles is minimised. Where the hurdles cannot be removed, we should ensure support is available and effective.

Another key reason for supporting Defence families is their direct and interminable connection to capability. Supporting Defence families is critical to maintaining a healthy, high performing ADF workforce for several reasons:

Firstly, the family’s wellbeing directly affects the mental, emotional, and physical health of ADF personnel, as well as their work performance. An ADF member who is worried about the wellbeing of their family may be distracted and less focused on their duties, which impacts their performance – this includes their readiness, reaction time and decision making. On the other hand, a Defence member with a stable and supportive family environment is more likely to be resilient, focused, and effective in their role.

Secondly, supporting Defence families is crucial for retention and recruitment of ADF personnel. The military lifestyle can be challenging for families, and inadequate support or low awareness of available support options may lead to increased stress, financial strain, and family breakdown, resulting in personnel transitioning out of service.

Retaining experienced personnel, particularly at the mid-career level, is essential for maintaining a skilled and experienced workforce. Furthermore, recruitment efforts can also be affected if potential candidates perceive that the military does not adequately support families, leading to a decrease in the number of qualified individuals willing to join – or stay with – the ADF.

Thirdly, supporting Defence families contributes to the overall morale and wellbeing of the ADF workforce. The ADF operates as a team, and the morale and cohesion of the entire workforce are critical to its effectiveness.

If families do not feel supported, it can lead to decreased morale among personnel, which in turn may affect unit cohesion and overall team effectiveness. Department of Defence research confirms these trends, with data showing that stable, happy families leading to higher performing and longer serving ADF members. 

In the course of our work at DFA, Defence family members have reported unemployment and underemployment, social disconnection, housing insecurity, interrupted education and breakdown of relationships.

Conversely, we have also seen remarkable resilience, strength, resourcefulness and a great sense of community responsibility and the need to ‘look after our own’.

There is an opportunity for the ADF to step up and care for the community, who share a bond through our enablement of service to Australia and other Australians through the ADF. This would send a powerful message that our people and those whom they love are valued.

This recognition, effective support and consideration would also maximise the ‘free’ services that families give to their ADF member loved ones.

Aside from a clear moral obligation to ensure Defence families are not worse off for loving an ADF member, there is a high return on investment for the nation’s military capability and effectiveness to support Defence families appropriately.

With geopolitical tensions the highest they have been since World War II, and increased frequency of ADF call outs to support responses to national disasters across Australia, the the stakes have never been higher for this generation of our Defence leaders and politicians. 

Not an afterthought

In conclusion, families provide essential social services to society, and supporting Defence families in Australia is critical to maintaining a healthy Defence workforce.

An ADF member’s family needs should be considered as part of their Defence career journey, and not as an afterthought.

Defence families face unique challenges, and ensuring their wellbeing is crucial for the mental, emotional, and physical health of ADF personnel, as well as for retention and recruitment efforts.

Supporting Defence families contributes to the overall morale and cohesion of the Defence workforce, making it a vital aspect of maintaining and growing Defence capability.

It is imperative that governments, Defence leaders, and society as a whole recognise the importance of supporting military families and take appropriate measures to ensure their wellbeing.

By doing so, we can ensure a strong and healthy Defence workforce that is capable of safeguarding our nation’s security, now and into the future.

If you have any feedback about your own Defence family experience, please contact the National Delegate for your area.

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